The Economy of Desires

Kenway and Bullen (2007) in their article ‘Globalising the young in the Age of Desire’ expose core aspects of the issues that should concern us as educators. By emphasising the particular values of neo-liberalism and the corporate-state such a critique must be argued within the context of the capitalist economic and political system. Is there a danger of assuming that there is a desire to analyse, and the political will to challenge mass corporate culture within the profession; and ultimately the authors assume that teachers, children and students are able to stand apart and resist the script of the ‘global corporate curriculum’?

As you enter ‘XY’ school one of the first things you see is the very large free-standing box encouraging parents to shop at Coles supermarkets so we can scrounge together some extra dollars for sports equipment. To resist by speaking-out about this issue is to be seen as a spoilsport; Coles is being philanthropic; parents have to shop anyway; we need the equipment. The character of western society and the corporate culture that currently conditions our daily life is achieved by such insidious examples of the ‘corporate script’ and how it is ‘acted-out’ in schools. How is this small exemplar repeated within the culture of corporations, is it as ubiquitous as their ads and their bad spelling?

Mass consumer culture, and mass corporate culture, provides the process of ‘privatisation’, one consequence of the corporate economic and political dynamic. Every individual subject becomes a ‘market’ to be exploited to expand capital and make profits for the corporations. This corporatisation of life dominated by technocratic CEOs, politicians and ‘human resource’ managers who use ‘the market’ as the excuse to dominate over us has implications for schools. Should this be of special concern for educators if we are to regard ourselves as critical advocates in relation to children’s rights and humanist pedagogies?

Workplace legislation that limit democratic rights by outlawing our right to organise and determine the character of our workplaces and our relationship with our employers; commercial in confidence rules; and penalties for bringing a corporation into disrepute, are just some of many examples that mitigate against reasonable relationships, flexibility in meeting individual and community needs, delivery and advocacy for programs that encourage democratic citizenship, workplaces and practices. What might be necessary to overcome these particular legal issues of control?

Naming this epoch as the ‘age of desire’ while proposing there is corresponding ‘lose of enchantment’ suggests there is a dual and contradictory process underway. Certainly the suggestion is that mass consumer culture appears to provide limitless possibilities to entertain, gratify and give pleasure. It appears too that this pleasure can be achieved easily and anywhere – but perhaps not in schools – where disenchantment threatens to pervade all one way or another.

Are schools expected to replicate corporations and the markets ability to reduce us all to the status of objects that consume? One past premier of Victoria who closed schools and sacked thousands of teachers believed the purpose of education was to make us ‘critical consumers’. To resist requires us to provide an antidote; it is not valid criticism if it is not a step toward providing an alternative to the threat of a purely reductionist conception and enactment that currently shapes humankind.

There is no doubt that schools and teachers need to rethink the meaning and purpose of education, but for that to happen discussions like this one must be generalised across the generations and across our communities. To take our education seriously means we do need educators and teachers in ‘schools’ who are capable and willing to overcome the corporate juggernaut, and re-enchant and redefine our needs, desires and therefore ourselves.

Kenway, J. & Bullen, E. (2007) Globalizing the young in the age of desire: Some educational policy issues. In M. Apple, J. Kenway & M. Singh, M. (Eds.) Globalizing Education: Policies, Pedagogies and Politics, New York: Peter Lang, pp.31-44.

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